Royal Scandal in the Court of The Queen of Denmark-Norway

Royal Scandal in the Court of The Queen of Denmark-Norway

During the latter half of the 18 th century, Denmark-Norway was ruled by a king by the name of Christian VII. His wife was Caroline Matilda of Great Britain. Christian’s reign, which lasted from 1788 until his death in 1808, was colored by the king’s insanity. Due to Christian’s mental illness, he was only nominally king, and power was in the hands of whoever controlled the court at the time. At one point of time, it was the king’s physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee, who was in charge of the affairs of state. Additionally, it was this physician with whom the queen was having an affair.

Christian VII

Born in 1749, Christian VII was the son of Frederick V of Denmark and his first wife, Louise of Great Britain. Christian’s mother is recorded to have died before her son reached the age of three. Frederick is said to have taken little notice of his young son, and remarried. Christian’s step-mother was Juliana of Brunswick-Wolffenbüttel, who is said to have been a domineering woman.

Juliana bore the king a physically deformed son, and being ambitious, saw Christian as an obstacle between her son and the Danish throne, thus resenting him. Frederick’s second marriage was unhappy, and the king eventually died at the age of 42. Christian became the King of Denmark-Norway in 1766.

Christian VII, Portrait by Alexander Roslin , c. 1772.

Princess Caroline Matilda

Caroline Matilda of Great Britain, who was born in 1751, was the ninth and youngest daughter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, and Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. Unlike her future husband, Caroline Matilda seems to have had a more wholesome childhood. As her father died suddenly three months prior to her birth, Caroline Matilda was raised by her mother at Kew and at Leicester House, away from the English court.

She is said to have enjoyed outdoor activities, and grew to be an attractive young woman. Additionally, she is said to have been able to speak Italian, German and French, and was an accomplished singer due to her beautiful voice. A marriage was arranged between Caroline Matilda and Christian, her first cousin, and in 1766, the pair were married.

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Painting of Caroline Matilda

Johann Friedrich Struensee

Johann Friedrich Struensee was born in 1738 in what is today Germany. His father is said to have been a superintendent-general of Schleswig-Holstein, who was also a Pietist. Struensee, however, was more interested in the ideas of the Enlightenment, and was a doctor by trade. Additionally, it has been said that Struensee befriended the right people at the right time.

Whilst he was practicing his trade in Altona, Struensee is said to have befriended some aristocrats, who would provide him the ticket to Christian’s court as a physician. Thus, Struensee, an adherent of Enlightenment ideals, found himself in the court of an absolute monarch.

Portrait of Struensee, 1770,

Motivational Marriage

The marriage of Christian and Caroline Matilda is said to have been politically motivated. The marriage was arranged in order to strengthen the ties between Denmark-Norway and Great Britain, to check the power of France, and to bolster the Protestant religion. The marriage is said to have been unhappy, as the king did not like his new wife, and his stepmother, now the Dowager Queen, was also unsympathetic towards her, and discouraged the other ladies in court from befriending the queen. Nevertheless, the royal couple had a child together, and Caroline Matilda grew close to Louise von Plessen, her lady-in-waiting (who was exiled from court in 1768).

Christian VII and Caroline Matilda dance at the wedding held at Christiansborg Palace.

In 1768, Christian embarked on a tour of Europe, and when he returned in the following year, brought back Struensee to his court. The physician seems to have been able to handle the king’s madness, and in return, Christian placed his confidence in him. It has been claimed that initially, the queen did not like this new member of the court. Struensee, it is said, was aware that in order to remain in the king’s favor, he had to be on good terms with the queen. Thus, the physician is said to have sought to repair the relationship between the king and the queen, which he succeeded. Struensee is also said to have either succeeded in treating the queen’s venereal disease, which she had caught from her husband, or saved her son from smallpox by having him inoculated.


In any event, by 1770, the queen and the physician had become extremely close, and an affair between the two began. Meanwhile, Struensee became the king’s principal advisor, and began to implement the ideas of the Enlightenment in the kingdom. These included the abolition of torture, the freedom of the press, and the limitation of the death penalty.

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The queen also seemed to have grown bolder, and showed herself in public riding on horseback dressed as a man. Additionally, in 1771, the queen gave birth to a daughter, Princess Louise Augusta, officially the daughter of Christian, but widely believed to have been the child of Struensee.

Engraving of Caroline Matilda giving birth.

Struensee held absolute power for ten months, when Christian sank into a condition of mental torpor. In the meantime, the scandalous actions of Caroline Matilda and Struensee brought them many enemies, who eventually succeeded in ousting the pair in early 1772. Struensee was tried, and found guilty of lèse-majesté (the crime of violating majesty) for his affair with Caroline Matilda, and was executed by having his right hand cut off, beheaded, and quartered. The queen was a little more fortunate, as she was imprisoned, before the British managed to negotiate her release. She was sent to Celle Castle in Hanover, where she died of she died of scarlet fever in 1775.

On 5 June 1820 Caroline of Brunswick returned to England to take her place as Queen Consort to George IV. But the breakdown in the couple’s relationship would become a matter of parliamentary and national importance. This blog from Dr Philip Salmon, editor of our Commons 1832-68 project, explores the impact of the Queen Caroline Affair on British politics.

Two hundred years ago the Prince Regent succeeded to the throne as George IV. His wife Caroline had been living abroad since their separation in 1814 and the new king wanted the Tory government to pass legislation giving him a divorce. Caroline’s unexpected return to England on 5 June to claim her place as Queen Consort, and the government’s failed attempt to prosecute her for adultery in the House of Lords, triggered one of the most significant political crises of the early 19th century. The unprecedented nationwide popular movement that emerged in her support, and the government’s inability to prevent public protests, had important consequences for the development of British politics.

Caroline is welcomed by Radicals in London (T. Lane, 1821) Henry Hunt is on the extreme left.

Only the previous year a large public rally in Manchester calling for parliamentary reform had been violently suppressed by the military. The Peterloo massacre resulted in at least 18 deaths. Fearing similar mass protests the government had imposed one of the biggest clamp-downs in British political history. The Six Acts of 1819 banned all ‘unofficial’ large public meetings and outdoor processions or demonstrations. It became illegal to criticise the state in print and punitive taxes were imposed on newspapers. The public execution in May 1820 of the Cato Street conspirators, for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government, reinforced this hard-line message. To preserve Britain from the threat of revolution and radically-inspired insurrection, the Tory Prime Minister Lord Liverpool and his Home Secretary Lord Sidmouth would take whatever action was necessary.

Within a few months, however, this hard-line policy seemed to be in tatters. Large public meetings and processions in support of the Queen had begun to sweep the nation. The issue ‘took possession of every house or cottage in the kingdom’, recalled one observer. ‘Every man, woman and child took part in it …nothing was thought of but the fate of the Queen’s trial’. Lord Sidmouth, along with many others who failed to display pro-Caroline ‘illuminations’ at their properties, had all his windows smashed. By September 50,000 protesters carrying anti-government banners were parading on a weekly basis through central London. By October the numbers meeting at Piccadilly had reached 100,000. The Times took the lead in fuelling press outrage at the Queen’s treatment, running brazen attacks on a ‘debauched’ king. The popular petitioning campaign in her support eventually attracted over a million signatures. The satirists and cartoonists had a field day.

All this public protest attracted remarkably little reaction from the authorities. The lack of a response was extraordinary. The Whig diarist Thomas Creevey MP noted with astonishment how ‘every Wednesday the same scene which caused so much alarm at Manchester is repeated under the very nose of Parliament and all the constituted authorities’. Part of the problem for the government was that the military were often involved. On one occasion 5,000 sailors marched to pay their own respects to the Queen, who was then staying with her main supporter in the Commons, the radical MP and former lord mayor of London, Matthew Wood.

Another difficulty was the constitutional and moral context. Although the Queen had separated from the king and was known to have had sexual affairs whilst living abroad, her constitutional status had not changed. Loyalty to the Queen, and demands for her name to be included in the Church of England’s official prayers, for example, could hardly be deemed ‘seditious’ or ‘libellous’. Obtaining ‘official’ sanction from a sympathetic magistrate for a meeting in her support, in these circumstances, was not difficult. George IV’s own notorious promiscuity added a moral dimension too. Fuelled by sympathy for the Queen and indignation about double standards, women marched, spoke and signed addresses in unprecedented numbers. With religious leaders and some members of the Cabinet, including the key minister George Canning, also deeply divided over her claims and treatment, the political and legal situation was far from straight forward.

Queen Caroline receiving loyal addresses (T. Dolby, 1820)

Perhaps the most significant factor inhibiting the government’s response, however, was the constitutional language and respect for historic institutions widely adopted by so many of the Queen’s supporters, especially in their formal addresses and petitions. When the City of London Corporation petitioned the Commons, for instance, they denounced the Queen’s trial as ‘repugnant to the constitution’ and ‘dangerous’ to the ‘honour and dignity of the Crown’. Many leading reformers and radicals who rallied behind the Queen’s cause used similar language, distancing themselves from the sort of demagoguery and association with the mob that had helped to trigger the government’s repressive measures. The ‘loyal’ and ‘respectable’ nature of their assemblies, and an emerging alliance between non-violent radicals, middle-class reformers and local Whig leaders in support of the Queen, was widely remarked on.

The History of Parliament volumes on constituency politics in this period suggest that in many towns and cities those who took the lead in organising support for the Queen went on to play an important role in local campaigns for municipal and parliamentary reform. In Taunton, for example, the same people responsible for the meetings and petitions of 1820 helped to establish a growing local reform movement. They eventually founded the ‘Loyal Political Union’ a decade later, with its declared aim of furthering ‘by every constitutional means the great measure of parliamentary reform’ while using ‘every exertion for the maintenance of order’. Put simply, at the local level the Queen Caroline affair seems to have taught reformers and radicals important lessons about how to organise and manage political agitation in ways that were considered legitimate and constitutional. As Thomas Creevey remarked:

The people have learned a great lesson from this wicked proceeding: they have learnt how to marshal and organise themselves … The arrangements made in every parish … are perfectly miraculous – quite new in their nature – and … will be of eternal application in all our public affairs.

Leading Whig politicians, whose campaigns for parliamentary reform had always been hampered by the outdoor activities of the more extreme radicals, also welcomed the shift in politics resulting from the Queen Caroline affair. ‘The Queen’s business’, observed Lord John Russell MP, ‘has done a great deal in renewing the old and natural alliance between the Whigs and the people, and weakening the influence of the violent radicals’.

Caroline depicted as Boadicea riding over the government and her opponents (G. Cruikshank, 1820)

When the government abandoned the Queen’s trial in November 1820, realising they would never secure the parliamentary votes they needed, the whole nation celebrated. Church bells were rung and ‘illuminations’ were held everywhere. The government’s highly controversial decision to prorogue Parliament to prevent any further discussion was one of the first political prorogations of the 19th century. Whigs and radicals hoped the beleaguered Tory government would collapse, but popular support for the Queen quickly evaporated. By February 1821 the political climate had cooled enough for the government to successfully see off radical and Whig calls in the Commons for a public inquiry. The affair, to all intents and purposes, seemed over. Lord Liverpool’s ministry had weathered the storm and survived. On the surface little had changed. At the local level, however, politics would never be quite the same.

The History of Parliament will be marking #QueenCaroline200 throughout the summer. Follow the History of Parliament on twitter for more.

Follow The Victorians Commons on twitter and WordPress to keep up to date with the research of our Commons 1832-68 section.

For more on the proceedings in the House of Lords, check out our video:

Prince Philip's Death Marks the End of Royal Dynastic Unions

In November 1947, a dynastic union was forged between the royal houses of Greece and Great Britain. It would be one of the last of this kind of royal marriages in history — a type of union that had knitted together the continent for 1,000 years.

When Philip, prince of Greece and Denmark married Elizabeth, princess of Great Britain, they reconnected two bloodlines descended from Queen Victoria. But they also renewed a kinship tie between Britain and Denmark that had been joined together numerous times, from Canute and Aelfgifu in 1015 to Edward VII and Alexandra in 1863.

For centuries, almost every European monarchy maintained diplomatic relationships with its neighbors through dynastic marriages, in a system that persisted all the way up to the 1930s, then rapidly faded away in the postwar era.

In stark contrast, before the second world war this practice was the absolute norm — particularly seen in the dense web of intermarriages between the royal families of Sweden, Denmark and Norway in the earlier decades of the 20th century.

One of the great dreams of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert — themselves the product of close dynastic union, as first cousins — was to unite the continent of Europe through kinship relations, hoping that close cousins would be less likely to go to war with one another.

This proved to be politically naive — disastrously so. The Great War that followed not long after Victoria's death pitted the forces of "Cousin Nicky" (Tsar Nicholas of Russia) and "Cousin Georgie" (King George V of Great Britain) against those of "Cousin Willy" (Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany), close kinship notwithstanding. By 1914, Britain, Russia and Germany had evolved as nation states, with modern governments, beyond the control of princely dynasticism as a political or diplomatic force.

Prince Philip's marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947 thus represented one of the last iterations of this Queen Victoria's dream. It reunited two of her descendants: Elizabeth through her father's line, and Philip through the line of his mother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Victoria. Indeed, in the previous decade, three of Philip's four sisters had married other descendants of Victoria.

But in 1947, times had changed and postwar Britain was not so keen to see the heir to the throne married to a foreign royal. Particularly not one whose sisters had married prominent German officers and whose family had an extremely fragile position on its throne in Greece, with a dynastic history full of abdications, military coups and plebiscites. Prince Philip was therefore "rebranded" before his marriage as Philip Mountbatten, lieutenant in the Royal Navy, naturalised British subject. But where did the name Mountbatten come from? And why before he changed his name was he called "Prince of Greece and Denmark"?

Scandal, conspiracy and the affair of the poisons: inside the court of Louis XIV

BBC Two&rsquos Versailles returned on 21 April for its second series, exploring the decadent and turbulent early reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Here, historian Lynn Wood Mollenauer considers the ambitious aristocrats who battled for power within the court and sheds light on the &lsquoaffair of the poisons&rsquo, a scandal that reached right into the inner circle of the king&hellip

This competition is now closed

Published: April 21, 2017 at 9:56 am

In 1678, the Parisian police received an anonymous tip warning of a conspiracy to poison the king, Louis XIV. Their investigation of the conspiracy led directly to a criminal magical underworld flourishing in the heart of the capital. There they discovered a loosely-knit community of sorceresses, magicians, and renegade priests who offered for sale an array of products including love spells, magic charms, and poisons known as “inheritance powders” manufactured from arsenic and desiccated toads. Customers from across the social hierarchy had apparently purchased such wares. Some clients dreamed of wealth, and bought charms to ensure that they would always win at games of chance others aspired to political success and sought “secrets” that would bring credit with the king others longed for romance, and invested in love charms and spells to vanquish their rivals. Still others wanted to rid themselves of rivals or relatives, and for the purpose bought shirts treated with a type of arsenic (the poison leached into the skin) or enema solutions containing mercuric chloride for their victims. These events would become known as ‘the affair of the poisons’, and the macabre details read like a gothic novel.

Over a score of the Sun King’s nobles were caught up in the affair. Even the king’s official mistress, Athénaïs de Montespan de Rochechouart, was implicated. She was suspected of having been a regular client of the city’s most notorious sorceress, La Voisin. Mme de Montespan was eventually cleared of the allegation that she had attempted to poison the king, but considerable, if circumstantial, evidence suggested that she had employed every means possible to increase her hold over him. She regularly sprinkled a variety of love potions into his food and bolstered their efficacy with an assortment of aphrodisiacs. Even more scandalously, she purportedly commissioned a series of sacrilegious magical ceremonies that were intended to ensure Louis’s affections.

Trials in the ‘burning chamber’

Louis XIV appointed a special judicial commission in 1679 to try those suspected of trafficking in magic or poison. Its magistrates sat in judgment in a darkened hall, the windows draped in black cloth and the only light provided by flaming torches. These torches lent the tribunal its unofficial name, the chambre ardente or ‘burning chamber’. By the time the king dissolved the commission three years later, it had investigated over 400 people, sending 36 to their deaths, four to the galleys, and 34 into exile. The remainder of those convicted – of those the police could find – received sentences that ranged from reprimands to periods of banishment. Several defendants, such as the duchesse de Bouillon and the duc de Luxembourg, were high-ranking nobles most were of the middling and lower classes. Approximately 60 suspects were never tried at all. Louis XIV and his ministers considered their potential testimony regarding the activities of his mistress and courtiers to be too inflammatory to be heard even by his handpicked judges. These suspects were instead sent to the king’s most remote border fortresses, where they spent the remainder of their lives in solitary confinement, forbidden to speak even to their jailors.

At the close of the trials, Louis XIV issued a royal edict in 1682 that both instituted state regulation of the sale of poisons and declared all magic to be fraudulent. Anyone who claimed to be able to perform it was banished from the kingdom, and magicians continued to be prosecuted in royal courts well into the modern era.

Ambitious aristocrats exposed

The affair not only exposed the activities of Paris’s magical practitioners but also laid bare the ambitions of the aristocrats who frequented the Sun King’s court. The court was the heart of the political system in absolutist France, where Louis XIV lured the most powerful nobles in the country to his throne with the promise of the lucrative rewards that were only his to bestow. As Louis parcelled out royal patronage, his court became a site of intense competition. Nobles vied to attract the king’s notice in the hope that they might enlarge their share of royal largesse. The records of the scandal suggest that some of those courtiers, seeking to win the king’s good graces, had turned to the denizens of Paris’s magical underworld. Aristocrats such as the duc de Luxembourg, for example, sought to impress the monarch with military success the duke purchased charms that were to render him invulnerable to sword wounds and guaranteed victory in battle.

The majority of courtiers who sought out supernatural assistance to further their ends were women. The magic they solicited was largely for Louis XIV’s love. The affair of the poisons unfolded at a time when aristocratic women were able to wield unparalleled influence within court circles despite their exclusion from public political participation. That influence was based to a great degree upon romantic intrigue. Therefore, the most influential woman was the one intimately involved with the most powerful man. At the Sun King’s court, that woman was not Queen Marie-Thérèse, who was a non-entity at court, but Louis’s official mistress.

Given the material, political, and social advantages that accrued to the official mistress and her family, it is not unimaginable that some noblewomen had recourse to magical aid in their quests for the king’s affections. Records kept by the head of police who led the investigation into the affair, Nicolas de la Reynie, indicated that as many as a dozen female courtiers bought love charms and spells intended for Louis XIV. The timing of their purchases was not coincidental – rumours were rife that the king’s passion for Louise de la Vallière, his first official mistress, had begun to wane.

Madame de Montespan

No woman seems to have been as comprehensive or as successful in her magical quest for the king’s attentions as Athénaïs de Montespan de Rochechouart. Even after she had won the position of official mistress, Madame de Montespan continued to ply the king with La Voisin’s love charms to ensure that his eye did not wander. She was seemingly willing to administer to her royal lover any mixture, no matter how repellent, if it promised to prolong his passion. Some of the potions she allegedly gave the king were concocted of Spanish fly and menstrual blood others contained bat’s blood, sperm, and iron filings.

A number of suspects arrested during the affair accused Madame de Montespan of participating in a series of spectacularly sacrilegious ceremonies of love magic. One renegade cleric, the abbé Guibourg, claimed that he had been hired to conduct three amatory masses over her naked body. The amatory mass was intended to establish control over the king’s “heart, mind, and will” by harnessing the power of a true mass to its illicit ends. Guibourg maintained that the ceremony also included the sacrifice of an infant, whose blood was added to pieces of a consecrated communion wafer and presented to his client for use as a philtre (love potion). Whatever the veracity of Guibourg’s shocking claims, the idea that Mme de Montespan might turn to illicit magic to achieve her amatory ambitions did not seem wholly unimaginable to those investigating the affair. While the king’s views on the matter cannot be known, it is worth noting that both Mme de Montespan’s tenure as official mistress and the affair of the poisons came to a close in the same year.

The place of the king’s official mistress was a difficult position to win and an even harder one to keep. Madame de Montespan’s tenure lasted more than a dozen years, during which she defended her title against the machinations of countless envious rivals. Perhaps she continued to visit the sorceresses and magicians of Paris because their efforts seemed to have helped her achieve her original success. Despite her fabled beauty and celebrated wit, she evidently felt the vulnerability of her position, particularly after she had borne the king several children and lost her figure – an occurrence that did not pass unremarked. In 1678, an Italian nobleman who frequented the court, Primi Visconti, sent a catty description of Louis’s mistress to a correspondent. He had just seen Madame de Montespan, he reported. She “had grown extremely stout and indeed, while she was descending from her carriage one day, I had a glimpse of one of her legs, and I swear it was as broad as my whole body. But,” he added, “I must say, to be just, that I have lost a lot of weight since you have seen me.”

Through the charms and rituals of love magic provided by inhabitants of the magical underworld, Athénaïs de Montespan and other aspiring royal mistresses sought to reach the summit of the court hierarchy. Louis’s courtiers strove mightily for his affections because only a place very close to the king’s side – whether in bed or out of it – offered access to the rewards, both material and honorific, that only he could bestow. What Madame de Montespan attempted to accomplish through supernatural means was far from unusual at Louis XIV’s court, where vying for the king’s favour was the preoccupation of every aristocrat.

Professor Lynn Wood Mollenauer is a cultural historian specialising in the history of France between the Renaissance and the Revolution, and the author of Strange Revelations: Poison, Magic, and Sacrilege in Louis XIV’s France (Pennsylvania State Press, 2007)

Series one of Versailles is currently available on BBC iPlayer, and series two begins on BBC Two at 9.30pm on Friday 21 April.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana

Prince Charles and Princess Diana were often photographed together looking completely in love with one another. As it turns out, their relationship was a pretty scandalous facade.

Andrew Morton, author of the biography Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words — a book now known as having been made with full cooperation from Diana herself — wrote, " Her marriage to Prince Charles in 1981 was described as a 'fairytale' by the Archbishop of Canter bury. In the popular imagination, the Prince and Princess. were the glamorous and sympathetic face of the House of Windsor. The very idea that their ten-year marriage was in dire trouble was unthinkable — even to the notoriously imaginative tabloid press. "

Dire trouble, indeed. Morton went on to tell what he learned about Diana, " It was like being transported into a parallel universe, the Princess talking about her unhappiness, her sense of betrayal, her suicide attempts and two things I had never previously heard of: bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder, and a woman called Camilla."

By royal standards, the two were a perfect match. However, it seems neither love nor happiness were present in their relationship. Cheating, however, was very much a part of their union.

16 Royals Who Suffered From Hereditary Mutations And Defects Caused By Inbreeding

Consanguinity, the act of marrying a biological relative, has been a mainstay of royal families for about as long as there have been dynasties. On paper, the idea makes perfect sense: marry a relative, keep the bloodline utterly pure by producing children from consanguineous marriages, and if a dispute should arise within the family, have the conflicting parties get married. What could possibly go wrong?

A lot, actually. As we now know, with the modern science of genetics and the hindsight of so many royal disasters, inbreeding leads to diseases and deformities, some of which were so severe that entire dynasties were brought to their knees. In fact, some historians have even suggested that the inbreeding of European royals was a leading factor of World War I. Thank goodness it pretty much ended then.

Considering that children in royal families tended to have much higher mortality rates than the general population, it can pretty well be concluded that being royalty wasn&rsquot always all that it was cracked up to be. This list will give you some pretty good reasons to be thankful that you aren&rsquot a king or queen.

As LGBT History Month draws to a close Dr Paul M. Hunneyball of the Lords 1604-1629 Section discusses the nature of relationships between James I and his favourite courtiers, his sexuality and how this affected his ability to maintain unquestionable dominance as the monarch…

‘James I slobbered at the mouth and had favourites he was thus a Bad King.’ This line from Sellar and Yeatman’s classic spoof history, 1066 And All That probably remains many people’s abiding impression of England’s first Stuart monarch. Both elements of the description are accurate, as it happens. The dribbling was a side-effect of James’s abnormally large tongue. However, the second issue requires more explanation. There was nothing particularly unusual about a 17th-century king having favourites. This was a standard mechanism by which trusted royal servants were promoted and rewarded. It allowed monarchs to look beyond the country’s traditional rulers, the hereditary nobility, and inject much-needed fresh blood into their governments. When the system worked well, it generated few complaints. James’s predecessor, Elizabeth I, had a series of favourites during her long reign, and with the exception of the 2nd earl of Essex, whose career ended messily on the scaffold, she proved adept at managing them. The queen’s favour could be withdrawn at any time if an individual offended her, and this uncertainty ensured that they never entirely forgot their dependence on her. And although Elizabeth’s principal favourites exerted considerable influence, and constructed substantial client networks, it was recognized in the country at large that the queen retained ultimate power.

Under James, this pattern changed, and the term ‘favourite’ took on new connotations. The king continued to promote particular courtiers and ministers in the usual fashion, but within this select group a few men were chosen specifically because James found them physically attractive. Notwithstanding a 30-year marriage which featured ten pregnancies, the king was homosexual. In an age when the act of sodomy was a capital offence, and people took seriously the bible’s strictures against ‘unnatural acts’ between men, this was bound to be controversial, though again context is important here. James had been king of Scotland for over three decades when he was nominated as the childless Elizabeth’s successor in 1603, and the queen’s leading ministers were almost certainly aware of his preferences, which had already caused disquiet north of the border. However, any anxieties over this issue were outweighed by the fact that he had the strongest hereditary claim to the throne, was a staunch Protestant, and had two healthy sons. In short, James was the best available guarantor of political and religious stability in England, and this trumped any other considerations.

Similarly, if his new subjects wanted to complain about him, there was no shortage of targets. James was physically unprepossessing, cowardly, and ruinously extravagant. He neglected government business in order to go hunting, drank far too much, and (probably the worst sin from an English perspective) was unmistakeably Scottish, with a heavy accent that most of his listeners struggled to understand. In effect, he would have been unpopular regardless of his sexual orientation, so for most people it was probably a cause for concern – but not necessarily the most important one. In any case, there was absolutely nothing they could do about it. As king, James was legally above criticism of any kind, which was classed as sedition and firmly suppressed. And in that highly privileged position, he behaved as he saw fit. The more lurid stories about his sexuality all date from long after his death, when the monarchy itself was under attack, and they should accordingly be treated with caution. Nevertheless, he seems to have been fairly uninhibited in his displays of affection towards any young man who caught his eye, and as word of this behaviour spread, so did private speculation about how far these relationships went.

Even so, it would be completely inaccurate to suggest a universal mood of moral outrage. The political system of the day dictated that the monarch was the ultimate source of all power and influence, so James could not simply be avoided by those who found him distasteful. Rather, his courtiers learnt to exploit his weaknesses for their own ends. Attractive young men thought likely to appeal to the king were recruited by senior politicians, and paraded around court, in the hope that they would become a means of manipulating James. This was how the most notorious favourite of all, George Villiers, began his career, advised and bankrolled by the 3rd earl of Pembroke and the then archbishop of Canterbury, George Abbot. The earl and the prelate were aiming to bring down the king’s existing favourite, Robert Carr, earl of Somerset, who was closely allied to a rival court faction. However, such tactics could backfire. Carr was indeed superseded by Villiers, but once the latter was secure in James’s affections, he rejected the influence of his sometime mentors, and pursued his own agenda. The resultant feud between Villiers and Pembroke disrupted English politics for the next decade.

James was always exceptionally generous towards his favourites, showering them with money, lands and titles. But in the case of Villiers, with whom he became totally and permanently besotted, the king went further than ever before, eventually creating him duke of Buckingham. Dukedoms were normally reserved for members of the royal family, so the elevation of Villiers, the younger son of an obscure squire, caused particular outrage. More disturbing, however, was the emotional hold that Villiers developed over the king. By the final years of his reign, an ailing James was so desperate to retain his favourite’s affections that he became almost incapable of opposing Villiers’ wishes. The duke nominated and destroyed ministers, and endlessly interfered in politics to protect his own interests. This above all was what generated anger at court and around the country. In the early 17th century monarchs’ sexual peccadillos were to some extent excusable, so long as they continued to provide strong leadership. But James’s passion for Villiers, heartfelt as it undoubtedly was, restricted the exercise of his royal authority, and diminished his credibility as head of state. And in the eyes of his contemporaries, that made him a Bad King.

  • Also see the sister piece to this blog by Paul M. Hunneyball, James I and the duke of Buckingham: Love, Power and Betrayal
  • Michael B. Young, King James and the History of Homosexuality (Fonthill Media, 2nd edn., 2016)
  • David M. Bergeron, King James and Letters of Homoerotic Desire (University of Iowa Press, 1999)

The History of Parliament’s project the House of Lords 1604-29, which sheds further light on these issues, is scheduled for publication next year.

European Royalty

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Modern Royalty and Aristocracy

The Great Survivors: How Monarchy Made It Into the Twenty-First Century by Peter Conradi. Tells the story of seven European reigning dynasties: the personalities, the history, their role in politics and society.

The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy: European Monarchies Compared edited by Robert Hazell and Bob Morris. Written by experts from Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden and the UK, this book consider monarchy's role, powers and functions, the laws of succession, royal finances, and more.

Realms of Royalty: New Directions in Researching Contemporary European Monarchies edited by Christina Jordan and Imke Polland. Theoretical approaches to recent developments (such as pop concerts during royal celebrations) and royal families' interactions with their subjects.

Aristocracy and the Modern World by Ellis Wasson. The first comprehensive study of the traditional European ruling class during the 19th and 20th centuries. Topics include wealth, family, recreation, gender, local authority and national power.

Princely Treasures by Geza Von Habsburg-Lothringen. European royal treasures from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods, including ceramics, paintings, sculptures, and silver.

Symbols of Power in Art by Paola Rapelli. Examines not only regal paraphernalia such as crowns, scepters, thrones, and orbs, but also the painted portraits, sculptures, tapestries, carved ivories, jewelry, coins, armor, and photographs created to display power.

The Royal Families of Europe by Geoffrey Hindley is about modern royal families, both reigning and deposed. Published in 2001.

Sex, Marriage, and Divorce

Sex With Kings: 500 Years of Adultery, Power, Rivalry, and Revenge by Eleanor Herman. A history of royal mistresses. You can read my review of the book here.

Sex With the Queen: 900 Years of Vile Kings, Virile Lovers, and Passionate Politics by Eleanor Herman. How did queens find happiness? Many had love affairs. This book discusses Anne Boleyn, Catherine the Great, Marie Antoinette, Princess Diana, and other royal women.

Royal Romances: Titillating Tales of Passion and Power in the Palaces of Europe by Leslie Carroll. Includes the love stories of Louis XIV and Madame de Maintenon, Catherine the Great and Grigory Potemkin, Marie Antoinette and Count Axel von Fersen, and today's Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine Centuries of Dynasty, Destiny, and Desire by Leslie Carroll. A "funny, raucous, and delightfully dirty" 900-year history of European royal marriages.

Inglorious Royal Marriages: A Demi-Millennium of Unholy Mismatrimony by Leslie Carroll. Outrageous real-life stories of royal marriages gone wrong, including Margaret Tudor and Mary I, who were desperately in love with unfaithful husbands two Medici princesses who were murdered by their husbands and Charles II's sister Minette, whose husband wore more makeup than she did.

Royal Love Stories by Gill Paul. The tales behind the real-life romances of Europe's kings and queens.

Dissolving Royal Marriages: A Documentary History, 860-1600 edited by David d'Avray. Drawing from original translations of key source documents, the book sheds new light on elite divorces and annulments. Topics include Eleanor of Aquitaine, King John of England, Plaisance of Cyprus, Alfonso III of Portugal, Margaret Tudor of Scotland, and Henri IV of France.

Scandal, Folly, Mystery, Murder

Royal Pains: A Rogues' Gallery of Brats, Brutes, and Bad Seeds by Leslie Carroll. Looks at some of European history's boldest, baddest, and bawdiest royals.

Royal Babylon: The Alarming History of European Royalty by Karl Shaw. Presents European royals as "a collection of madmen, philanderers, sexual misfits, sociopaths, and tragic emotional cripples."

Royal Blunders by Geoffrey Regan. Learn about the Hapsburg emperor who ate himself to death, the medieval French monarch who was utterly convinced that he was made of glass, and more.

Murder and Monarchy: Regicide in European History, 1300-1800 edited by Robert von Friedeburg. Fifteen leading scholars examine case studies of physical assaults on kings and on members of royal families.

Royal Murders: Hatred, Revenge, and the Seizing of Power by Dulcie M. Ashdown discusses murders of and by European royals over the past 1,000 years.

The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul by Eleanor Herman. A work of pop history that traces the use of poison as a political tool in the royal courts of Western Europe.

Royalty & Disease

Royal Maladies: Inherited Diseases in the Royal Houses of Europe by Alan R. Rushton, M.D., Ph.D. A study of the hereditary diseases hemophilia and porphyria in the personal and political lives of the European royal families.

Queen Victoria's Gene by D. M. Potts and W. T. W. Potts. About the hemophilia gene Queen Victoria passed down to her descendants and how it affected modern European history.

Medicine at the Courts of Europe: 1500-1837 edited by Vivian Nutton. Essays examining medical activities in a courts from the Rome of the Borgias to the Catherine the Great's Russia.

Pop Culture

Premodern Rulers and Postmodern Viewers: Gender, Sex, and Power in Popular Culture edited by Janice North, Karl C. Alvestad, and Elena Woodacre. How the lives of European monarchs have been mythologized on-screen to appeal to today's audiences.

European History

Europe: A History by Norman Davies. The first major history of Europe to give equal weight to both East and West, from the Ice Age to the Atomic Age.

Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations by Norman Davies. An account of 14 European kingdoms -- their rise, maturity, and eventual disappearance. Includes Aragon, Etruria, and the Kingdom of the Two Burgundies.

The Penguin History of Europe by J. M. Roberts. The tale of the European continent, from its Neolithic origins and early civilizations of the Aegean to the 21st century.

The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe by Barry Cunliffe. A comprehensive account of prehistoric Europe from the coming of the Stone Age to the fall of the Roman Empire.

European History for Dummies by Dr. Seán Lang. The disasters, triumphs, power struggles and politics that have shaped Europe from the Stone Age to the 21st century.

The European Nobilities: Western and Southern Europe edited by Hamish Scott. A collection of essays about nobility in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.

In the Manner of the Franks: Hunting, Kingship, and Masculinity in Early Medieval Europe by Eric J. Goldberg. Royal hunting from the late Roman Empire to the death of the last Carolingian king, Louis V, in a hunting accident in 987.

The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe by Michael Pye. Saints and spies, pirates and philosophers, artists and intellectuals criss-crossed the North Sea during the Dark Ages.

The Mighty Warrior Kings: From the Ashes of the Roman Empire to the New Ruling Order by Philip J. Potter. Traces the history of early Europe through the biographies of nine kings, from Charlemagne to Robert the Bruce.

Blood Royal: Dynastic Politics in Medieval Europe by Robert Bartlett. Explores the role played by family in the politics of royal and imperial dynasties.

Royal Bastards: The Birth of Illegitimacy, 800-1230 by Sara McDougall. Well into the late 12th century, being a legitimate heir depended on social status and lineage, not parents' marital status. Includes genealogical charts of the House of Jerusalem and Iberian royal houses.

Royal and Elite Households in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: More Than Just a Castle edited by Theresa Earenfight. Topics include the nuclear and extended royal family, their household attendants, noblemen and noblewomen as courtiers, and physicians.

Magnificence and Princely Splendour in the Middle Ages by Richard Barber. In medieval Europe, magnificence was seen as the king's duty, and it applied to his garments, courtiers, artists, feasts and ceremonies. This wide-ranging survey centers on France.

Rebel Barons: Resisting Royal Power in Medieval Culture by Luke Sunderland. Epic poems, prose, and chronicles reflected aristocratic concerns about tyranny and were models of violent opposition to sovereigns.

The Book of Emperors: A Translation of the Middle High German Kaiserchronik edited and translated by Henry A. Myers. The Kaiserchronik (c.1152-1165) is a verse chronicle of the exploits of the Roman, Byzantine, Carolingian, and Holy Roman kings and rulers, from the establishment of Rome to the start of the Second Crusade.

The King's Body: Sacred Rituals of Power in Medieval and Early Modern Europe by Sergio Bertelli, translated by R. Burr Litchfield. Looks at kingship in the Middle Ages, when the distinction between the political and the religious did not exist.

Kings and Warriors in Early North-West Europe edited by Jan Erik Rekdaland Charles Doherty. Essays examine how medieval Norse, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon writers highlighted the role of the warrior in relation to kings and society.

Holy Rulers and Blessed Princesses by Gabor Klaniczay is about dynastic cults in medieval central Europe.

The Oxford Illustrated History of Medieval Europe by George Holmes. An account of life in medieval Europe between the fall of the Roman Empire and the coming of the Renaissance.

Atlas of Medieval Europe edited by Angus MacKay and David Ditchburn. Covers the period from the fall of the Roman Empire through the beginnings of the Renaissance.

Renaissance & Early Modern

Princes and Princely Culture 1450-1650 by Martin Gosman. Thirteen essays on European princes of the medieval and Renaissance eras.

The Renaissance Monarchies, 1469-1558 by Catherine Mulgan. Discusses Ferdinand and Isabella, their grandson Charles V, and Francis I.


Monarchs of the Renaissance by Philip J. Potter. The lives and reigns of 42 European kings and queens.

Four Princes: Henry VIII, Francis I, Charles V, Suleiman the Magnificent and the Obsessions That Forged Modern Europe by John Julius Norwich. About 16th century rulers of England, France, the Holy Roman Empire, and the Ottoman Empire who changed European history.

Early Modern

Unexpected Heirs in Early Modern Europe: Potential Kings and Queens edited by Valerie Schutte. There were many surprising accessions in the early modern period, including Mary I of England and Henry III of France. This book evaluates their lives and the repercussions of their reigns.

Monarchy Transformed: Princes and Their Elites in Early Modern Western Europe edited by Robert von Friedeburg and John Morrill. Argues that the new monarchies that emerged during the 'long 17th century' were not states in a modern sense, but princely dynasties.

Kings, Nobles and Commoners: States and Societies in Early Modern Europe by Jeremy Black. Tackles questions vital for understanding of early modern Europe. What was the nature of the state? Did Protestantism lead to progress and Catholicism to absolutism?

Early Modern Europe: An Oxford History by Euan Cameron. From the Renaissance and the Reformation to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution.

Perceiving Power in Early Modern Europe edited by Francis So. This collection discusses forms of kingship such as client-kingship, monarchy, queen consort and regnant queenship.

The 18th & 19th Centuries

Life in the Georgian Court by Catherine Curzon. Peep behind the shutters of the opulent courts of 18th century Europe at royal scandals, tragedies, and romance.

Phantom Terror: Political Paranoia and the Creation of the Modern State, 1789-1848 by Adam Zamoyski. After the French Revolution, monarchs and their courtiers lived in constant fear of rebellion.

The 'Sailor Prince' in the Age of Empire: Creating a Monarchical Brand in Nineteenth-Century Europe by Miriam Magdalena Schneider. Traces the careers and travels of Prince Alfred of Britain, Prince Heinrich of Prussia, Prince Valdemar of Denmark, and Prince Georgios of Greece.

Sons and Heirs: Succession and Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century Europe edited by Frank Lorenz Müller and Heidi Mehrkens. Focuses on the role of royal heirs, including their education and accommodation, their ability to overcome succession crises, the consequences of the death of an heir, and their roles during the First World War.

Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe edited by Frank Muller and Heidi Mehrkens. Studies exploring the role played by royal heirs in Britain, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Sweden, Norway and Prussia.

Courts and Courtiers

The Princely Court by Malcolm Vale is about medieval courts and culture in North-West Europe, 1270-1380.

The Age of the Favourite, edited by J.H. Elliott and Laurence Brockliss, is about European royal favorites in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Politics of Female Households: Ladies-in-Waiting Across Early Modern Europe edited by Nadine Akkerman and Birgit Houben. Essays about the ways in which women influenced the politics and culture of their times.

Monarchy and Religion: The Transformation of Royal Culture in Eighteenth-Century Europe edited by Michael Schaich. Essays investigate the role of clergymen, religious observances, and religious images and ceremonies at British, French, Russian, and German royal courts.

Royal Life and Food

Childhood at Court, 1819-1914 by John Van Der Kiste. What was childhood like for European princes and princesses in the Victorian and Edwardian periods? Here their education, recreation, and general upbringing is discussed.

Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting by Carolyn Harris. How European royal parents dealt with raising their children, from keeping Vikings at bay to fending off paparazzi.

Dressed to Rule: Royal and Court Costume From Louis XIV to Elizabeth II by Philip Mansel. Explores how rulers have sought to control their image through their appearance. Individual styles of dress throw light on the personalities of particular monarchs, their court system, and their ambitions.

Royal Taste: Food, Power and Status at the European Courts After 1789 edited by Danielle De Vooght. Contributors consider the way royals and aristocrats wined and dined. Topics include the role of sherry at the court of Queen Victoria, the use of the truffle as a promotional gift at the Savoy court, and the influence of Europe on banqueting at the Ottoman palace.

Eating With Emperors: 150 Years of Dining With Emperors, Kings, Queens. and the Occasional Maharajah by Jake Smith. Based on menu cards from the tables of world leaders, this book offers recipes along with anecdotes about Napoleon Bonaparte, Queen Elizabeth II, Princess Diana, Prince Rainier III, Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria-Hungary, Emperor Wilhelm II, Queen Victoria, and other European royals.

Monarchy, Politics and Law

The Prince and the Law, 1200-1600 by Kenneth Pennington is about sovereignty and rights in the western legal tradition.

Kingship and Law in the Middle Ages: Studies by Fritz Kern, translated by S. B. Chrimes. The history of the idea of Western monarchy, law, and constitution from the fifth century to the early 14th century.

Monarchy, Aristocracy, and the State in Europe 1300-1800 by Hillay Zmora. A survey of the relationship between the monarchy and the state in early modern Europe.

Royal and Republican Sovereignty in Early Modern Europe edited by Robert Oresko, G. C. Gibbs, H. M. Scott. Illustrated collection of essays by leading scholars on the theme of sovereignty and political power in 17th- and 18th-century Europe.

The Royal Remains: The People's Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty by Eric L. Santner. In early modern Europe, the king's body was literally sovereign. This book demonstrates the ways in which democratic societies have continued practices associated with kingship in distorted forms.

The Zenith of European Monarchy and Its Elites: The Politics of Culture, 1650-1750 by Nicholas Henshall. By the mid-17th century, several European monarchies were collapsing. This book shows how monarchs tried to work with, rather than against, their elites.

Monarchy and Exile: The Politics of Legitimacy From Marie de Medicis to Wilhelm II edited by Philip Mansel and Torsten Riotte. Detailed studies of 15 exiled royal figures from the 16th to 20th century, including the Jacobite court and the exiled kings of Hanover.

Monarchy and Power

A Clash of Thrones: The Power-Crazed Medieval Kings, Popes and Emperors of Europe by Andrew Rawson. An account of 450 years of treachery, triumph, and disaster, starting with the Great Schism in 1054 and ending with the discovery of the New World in 1492.

Peaceful Kings: Peace, Power and the Early Medieval Political Imagination by Paul Kershaw. The relationship between kingship and peace was explored in writing across Europe in the early Middle Ages.

Visual Power and Fame in Rene d'Anjou, Geoffrey Chaucer, and the Black Prince by SunHee Kim Gertz. How Naples king René d'Anjou (1409-1480) and England's Edward the Black Prince (1330-1376) communicated with audiences in order to secure fame.

Premodern Rulership and Contemporary Political Power: The King's Body Never Dies edited by Karolina Mroziewicz and Aleksander Sroczynski. In the medieval period, the monarch was seen as the embodiment of his kingdom, the body politic. This book offers 13 case studies from premodern and contemporary Europe on how bodies politic were, and continue to be, constructed and challenged.

The Myth of Absolutism: Change & Continuity in Early Modern European Monarchy by Nicholas Henshall. Examines the various definitions of "absolute monarchy" and the amount of real power monarchs wielded.

Congress of Vienna

The Congress of Vienna and Its Legacy: War and Great Power Diplomacy After Napoleon by Mark Jarrett. In September 1814, the rulers of Europe descended upon Vienna to reconstruct Europe after two decades of revolution and war, leading to a bold experiment in international cooperation known as the Congress System.

The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics After Napoleon by Brian E. Vick. Considers both the pageantry of the royals and elites who gathered after Napoleon's defeat and the landmark diplomatic agreements they brokered.


Crowns and Colonies: European Monarchies and Overseas Empires edited by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery. This collection of essays explores the connections between monarchy and colonialism, with case studies drawn from Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy.

Royals on Tour: Politics, Pageantry and Colonialism edited by Robert Aldrich and Cindy McCreery. Explores visits by European monarchs and princes to colonies, and by indigenous royals to Europe in the 1800s and early 1900s.

European Queens

Bourbon Dynasty

The Impossible Bourbons: Europe's Most Ambitious Dynasty by Oliver Thomson. Traces the rise of the family that won the the crowns first of France, then Spain and finally Naples and Sicily, including the Spanish Bourbons right up to the present day King Juan Carlos.


Secrets of the Seven Smallest States of Europe by Thomas M. Eccardt. An illustrated look at the history, culture and inner workings of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and Vatican City.


Daughter of Venice: Caterina Corner, Queen of Cyprus and Woman of the Renaissance by Holly S. Hurlburt. Catherine Cornaro, a Venetian noblewoman, married King James II of Cyprus. After his death, she became regent and then monarch. This study considers the strategies of her reign until her forced abdication in 1489.


The Murder of Charles the Good by Galbert of Bruges, translated by James Bruce Ross. Charles the Good, count of Flanders, was the son of Denmark's King Canute IV. This is an account of his murder in 1127 and its profound effects on medieval Flemish society and the balance of power in Europe.


I, Jacqueline by Hilda Lewis. Novel about Jacqueline of Hainaut, thrice married, thrice imprisoned the extraordinary 15th-century life of a woman who endured the power politics of England, Burgundy, and France.


Making a Great Ruler: Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania by Giedre Michunaite. How does a ruler become "the Great"? This study suggests that Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania (r.1392-1430) was the main engineer of his image as a great ruler.

Historical Dictionary of Lithuania by Saulius Suziedelis. Includes lists of Lithuanian rulers from 1251-1795, four maps, and a detailed chronology.

Lithuania Ascending: A Pagan Empire Within East-Central Europe, 1295-1345 by S.C. Rowell. From 1250 to 1795 Lithuania covered a vast area of eastern and central Europe. This book examines how Lithuania expanded, defended itself against western European crusaders, and played a conspicuous part in European life.

Kingdom of Navarre

The Queens Regnant of Navarre: Succession, Politics, and Partnership, 1274-1512 by Elena Woodacre. There were five reigning queens of Navarre during the Middle Ages. This book examines female succession, power-sharing between the queens and their male consorts, and the queens' connections to other female rulers, including Isabel of Castile and Giovanna II of Naples.

Marguerite of Navarre

Marguerite de Navarre (1492-1549): Mother of the Renaissance by Patricia Francis Cholakian and Rouben C. Cholakian. Biography. Sister to the king of France, queen of Navarre, gifted writer, religious reformer, and patron of the arts -- Marguerite was one of the most important figures of the French Renaissance.

The Pleasure of Discernment: Marguerite de Navarre as Theologian by Carol Thysell. Margaret of Navarre, sister of French king Francis I and the wife of Henry II of Navarre, was a writer and the patron of Rabelais and other literary figures.

The Heptameron by Marguerite De Navarre. Believed to be the work of Margaret of Navarre, this book is located in the tradition of the Decameron : a collection of bawdy, romantic, and spiritual stories that offer a surprisingly immediate picture of life in sophisticated 16th century France.

The Humor of Marguerite De Navarre in the Heptameron: A Feminist Author Before Her Time by John Parkin. Marguerite's satiric short-story collection, the Heptameron, used stock medieval comic patterns.

Roma (Gypsies)

The Gypsies by Angus Fraser. Opens with an investigation of gypsy origins in India, then traces gypsy migration from the early Middle Ages to the present, through the Middle East, Europe, and the world.

A History of the Gypsies of Eastern Europe and Russia by David M. Crowe. Draws from previously untapped East European, Russian, and traditional sources to explore the life, history, and culture of the Roma from the Middle Ages until the present.

We Are the Romani People by Ian F. Hancock. The author, who is himself a Romani, speaks directly to the gadze (non-Gypsy) reader about his people and their history since leaving India one thousand years ago.

Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey by Isabel Fonseca. Describes the four years the author spent with Gypsies from Albania to Poland, listening to their stories and deciphering their taboos.


A Concise History of Switzerland by Clive Church and Randolph Head. Traces the historical and cultural development of the country from the end of the Dark Ages to the modern era.


Ukraine: A History by Orest Subtelny. Looks at the region's history from ancient times to the modern day.

A History of the Ukraine by Paul Robert Magocsi. Traces some 3,000 years of political, economic, and cultural history of the Ukraine, up until the declaration of Ukrainian independence in 1991.

The Dynasty of Chernigov, 1146-1246 by Martin Dimnik. Examines the Ukrainian princedom of Chernigov, including succession and inheritance, marriage alliances, and princely relations with the church.

First World War

The Emperors: How Europe's Greatest Rulers Were Destroyed by World War I by Gareth Russell. Tells the story of the Austrian, German and Russian imperial families during the First World War, and the political and personal struggles that brought about their ruin.

George, Nicholas and Wilhelm by Miranda Carter. The publisher sent me a copy of this book to review. It examines the family ties and friendships between European royals, including out-of-touch Russian tsar Nicholas II and bombastic German kaiser Wilhelm II, before the First World War. Although Britain's King George V is mentioned in the title, the book focuses more on his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and his father, King Edward VII. The writer has an eye for colorful anecdotes that help bring history to life.

Dreadnought: Britain, Germany, and the Coming of the Great War by Robert K. Massie. Vividly describes turn-of-the-century European royal families and their role in the First World War.

Crowns in Conflict by Theo Aronson. The triumph and tragedy of European monarchy, 1910-1918.

Royalty and Diplomacy in Europe, 1890-1914 by Roderick R. McLean. Examines the role of royal families in European diplomacy before the outbreak of the First World War.

Between Two Emperors edited by John Van der Kiste. Between 1894 and 1914, German emperor William II and his cousin Tsar Nicholas II of Russia exchanged a series of telegrams and letters. These are now published for the first time in one volume.

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War by Max Hastings. A history of the outbreak of World War I: the dramatic stretch from the breakdown of diplomacy to the battles -- the Marne, Ypres, Tannenberg -- that marked the frenzied first year.

A Mad Catastrophe by Geoffrey Wawro. The outbreak of World War I and the collapse of the Habsburg empire.

Imperial Requiem: Four Royal Women and the Fall of the Age of Empires by Justin C. Vovk. About Augusta Victoria, Germany's empress Queen Mary, whose strength made her the soul of the British monarchy Alexandra, the tsarina who helped topple the Russian monarchy and Zita, the resolute empress of Austria.

Children's Books

The Raucous Royals: Test Your Royal Wits - Crack Codes, Solve Mysteries, and Deduce Which Royal Rumors Are True by Carlyn Beccia. Looks at rumors and how the truth can become twisted over time. For children ages 4 to 8.

Rulers of the Middle Ages by Rafael Tilton. About Charlemagne, William the Conqueror, Genghis Khan, Frederick Barbarossa, Louis IX, Edward III, and Charles VII. For young adult readers.

Princes & Princesses: Art for Kids from Parkstone Press. Colorful jigsaw puzzles created from well-known paintings of princes and princesses. For children ages 4 to 8.

1 Galswintha, Sigebert, And Chilperic

The most remarkable and ruthless woman of the sixth century started life as a slave in the court of the Frankish king Chilperic. Her name was Fredegund, and she soon caught the eye of the king. But Fredegund was unwilling to remain a mistress, and Queen Galswintha was soon strangled, with Fredegund replacing her as Chilperic&rsquos wife.

Unfortunately, Galswintha&rsquos sister was Brunhilde, wife of Chilperic&rsquos brother, Sigebert, who attacked in search of revenge. Sigebert was victorious in battle but was assassinated in his hour of triumph on Fredegund&rsquos orders. Fredegund also made numerous attempts to assassinate Brunhilde, although her doughty rival survived them all.

Over the next three decades, Fredegund ordered so many murders that it&rsquos impossible list them all here. Her notable victims include most of Chilperic&rsquos sons from earlier marriages, numerous bishops and nobles, and probably Chilperic himself, who was mysteriously murdered in 584. She also ordered a failed attempt on the life of King Guntram of Burgundy and forced Brunhilde&rsquos second husband into suicide.

But Fredegund was more than a crazed killer. She cemented her popularity by persuading her husband to lower taxes. And she successfully defended her position after Chilperic&rsquos murder, ensuring that her son would take the throne.

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